A weird Scorsese riff comes out of nowhere after the emotional highs of last week’s episode.
After Hours may be considered an outlier amongst Martin Scorsese’s larger filmography, but it’s nevertheless a sterling example of his tight storytelling instincts. You wouldn’t consider Ted Lasso to be a show that would ever try to imitate the conceit of a man trying to find his way around a city at night while encountering all manners of weirdos, but Bill Lawrence, for whatever reason, felt compelled to side-step the season’s story entirely to focus on one of the show’s least-developed characters. There was something in Coach Beard’s tenor as he said goodbye to Ted after the Man City match last week that belied something darker, and “Beard After Hours” dedicates itself entirely to his exploits, for better and worse.
I have no problem whatsoever with the show eschewing the season’s arc to do one-off episodes – I’ll forever be a staunch defender of “Carol of the Bells” – so I like the idea of exploring the inner workings of Coach Beard’s character beyond quippy one-liners and mysterious sexual references. And I like it when a show gets experimental to keep its audience on its toes. I just wish that the show had set up Beard’s emotional stakes more in the lead-up to this week’s episode. Jane, and Beard’s on-again-off-again relationship with her, had been referenced in nearly every episode this season, but we hadn’t actually seen the inner workings of that relationship until “The Signal,” when it was relegated to a B- or C-story; and even then, it was filtered through the eyes of Higgins and his concern for Beard.
This week’s episode picks up immediately after Beard’s farewell to Ted at Wembley. He heads home, checks in on Richmond’s post-game coverage, and it’s here where the fantasy elements start to reveal themselves, as Thierry Henry himself (yet another delightful cameo from a real-life football personality that the show has on its mantle) begins to criticize Beard through the TV. Understandably freaked out, Beard heads to the pub to drown his sorrows, where he’s joined by the three Richmond fanatics (sorry, I can’t remember their names and they’re not exactly developed a ton here anyway). Jane continues to text him to join her, but Beard can’t find the courage to tell her what’s really on his mind – that their relationship is toxic and he needs to set some boundaries. Not wanting the night to end, Beard and the barflies head to a swanky members-only club, which involves some impressive improvisation on Beard’s part when confronted by some real members. The stakes here are fun and inconsequential, but tread some disappointingly familiar ground for a show which has managed to exceed story expectations, even when using well-worn tropes. The show continues to put Beard in crazier places and situations with more and more fantastical hallucinations, including a trek to a sexy woman’s apartment and a rendezvous with Jamie Tartt’s father. The climax of the episode feels off to me as well, as it doesn’t exactly wrap up any of Beard’s lingering issues that he’s faced throughout the episode. I get that the show is going for a sort of blissful catharsis, with Beard simply enjoying the moment, but it just ended up feeling hollow, as if the writers couldn’t find their way out of the story.
I don’t dislike Coach Beard as a character. And I definitely don’t dislike Brendan Hunt’s performance as Beard – especially this week, when he’s asked to handle a lot of different emotional beats. It just feels like “Beard After Hours” could have worked so much better as a season 3 or 4 episode, after involving Hunt in a couple more substantial arcs. After the emotional high point of “Man City,” the transition to “Beard After Hours” comes as a bit of a shock, both from a structural and narrative standpoint. Viewers that wait to binge the entire season at once will likely be in for more of a jolt, though I’ll stand by any show and streaming platform that chooses to release their episodes weekly over dumping them all at once because it harkens back to how TV has always been. Remember the anxiety of waiting an entire week – or longer – to see what would happen to Jack and the gang on Lost? When season 2 of the show was announced, Apple ordered 12 episodes, an increase from the 10 of season one. The show had clearly set up the possibility of seeing Beard’s exploits when we last saw him last week, but it’s hard to feel like “Beard After Hours” was put together at the last minute, after the writers had already broken the story at large for season two.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.